First Look: Tiny Diner has big potential

Categories: Now Open
David McCrindle
Tiny Diner is now open in Powderhorn
The latest addition to Kim Bartmann's ever-evolving eatery empire (Red Stag, Pat's Tap, Kyatchi Sushi, Barbette, etc.) is a mini restaurant on a major mission.

Tiny Diner is not only bringing all-day, all-organic meals to Powderhorn, they're working to be as self-reliant and sustainable as possible, drawing energy for the building from huge solar panels on the patio roof, keeping bees to make their own hyper-local rooftop honey, composting food waste, using cisterns to collect and store water, and maintaining a garden that will teach permaculture practices to the community and provide food for the restaurant. All that and they're making pie, too. 

We stopped by for dinner to check out the beer list, the big old patio and kids play area (complete with a willow thicket hut), sample the house-made soft serve, and see how Bartmann has interpreted the concept of a modern urban diner. 

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There's a practiced familiarity to the food here, perhaps that has something to do with how often we eat at Bartmann's other restaurants. But Tiny Diner's distinct angle is in its all-day breakfast, family friendliness, and wide range of options in terms of price and fanciness. They're also planning to feature a different US city every few months to use as a source of inspiration for special dishes. They launched with Philadelphia, so if you're a fan of cheesesteak flavors (done here as pepper, Wiz, and beef-smothered French fries), Whoopie pie, and the processed meat wonder known as Taylor pork roll (a staple at diners in New Jersey and Philadelphia), you'll want to plan your trip to Tiny Diner sooner rather than later.

We opted for regular menu items, but went for a combination of classic diner fare and more refined dishes to see where Tiny Diner's strength lies. 

Turkey liver mousse on caraway toasts
Round one, the appetizer round, definitely went to the fancy-pants dish: smoked turkey liver mousse with pickled berries. We know, we know. Who isn't doing a liver mousse these days? But the unctuous, smooth, and smoky quality paired against the slightly bitter greens, thin slices of radish, and briny berries was delicious. Additionally, the caraway toasts the mousse was spread on were perfectly sturdy and buttery. 

Double-dipped onion rings
The batter-dipped onion rings had great crispness and a certain, handmade old-fashioned kind of charm, but were unevenly breaded so thicker coating tasted a little raw and the thinner areas were burned. However, the house made barbecue sauce that came on the side was intriguingly tangy and treacly. 

Crab fried rice with sunny egg
The entree round was more of a toss-up, a nail-biter if you will. Once we saw the soft-shell crab with fried brown rice, it was hard to think of actually ordering any of the other main dishes. The rice itself had a texture somewhere between fried rice and risotto. There was still al dente bite in the rice, but a slight creaminess bound the bits of carrots and scallions all together. Topped off with a magazine cover-ready sunny-side fried egg (a promising indication of the caliber of breakfast) and a whole crispy crab covered in sweet chili sauce, this dish gave us a lot to love. But at $16 we couldn't help but notice we got a whole lot of rice and a smallish, bordering on overcooked crab. Even if the portions were a little off, the flavors were spot-on. 

Deluxe burger lives up to its name
For our money the stronger contender was the Deluxe Burger, a rare example of a toppings-loaded burger that stays neat, tasty, and well-balanced until the last bite. Here they cook a loosely packed grass-fed patty to order and layer it up with gouda cheese, really perfectly cooked bacon (again, another signal that breakfast here will be killer), lettuce, tomato, an onion ring, and a little Bearnaise-inspired aioli. It's the kind of burger that makes you wonder why you don't order burgers more often. 

Raspberry pie with whipped cream
Dessert was a tie between the icy, but subtly sweet house-made vanilla soft serve and a slice of tart raspberry pie. The slice was served very cold and the pastry, more like a shortbread than a flaky crust, probably would have been more workable at room temperature. There's room for improvement, but we're happy to keep taste testing those desserts while they fine tune. 

To finish, we had to try out Tiny Diner's aperitif wine cocktails. The restaurant only has license to sell wine and beer, but they're doing a lot within those liquor limits. An Aperol Spritz with lots of zesty orange flavor, bubbles, and little Lillet, was refreshing and bitter where the Bonal Collins was more tart, almost like a mildly boozy fresh lemonade. The beer list is impressive, with a heavy emphasis on local picks like gluten-free beers from Burning Bros., a few from Indeed, and Schell's Zommerfest. Teetotalers and kids will appreciate the house-made blueberry cream soda -- sweet, summery, and totally indulgent. 

Though there's a big range of what's offered, and we have no problem paying a little more for food with purpose and integrity, we were a little surprised at the prices on some entrees, feeling that $36 lamb chops may not be at the top of most customer's order lists. That said, we can't wait to come back for breakfast and sample the special dishes from the next featured US city. Tiny Diner is already making a sizable impact.

Tiny Diner
1024 E. 38th St., Minneapolis

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What Happened to the first Chef of Tiny Diner?  I heard he was a convicted sex offender and was brought into our neighbor hood by the benevolent Kim Bartmann and fired after a week.

Lindsey Wagner
Lindsey Wagner

This is not in Powderhorn. Regardless, glad they're finally open!!

Brandon Daly
Brandon Daly

i cant wait to barf a kale smoothie out my ass

Cris Longfield
Cris Longfield

WHATS ? the CROSS STREETS ?& why do we even have to ask ? come on with the story & if YOUR SHARP at your job --------------------YA _____________ya it might have a ADRESS????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????


Love it all FROM a OLD TIMER Neighbor  Its special 

Emma Hoel
Emma Hoel

Robyn Anderson Luke Anderson we should try this!

Rick Mayer
Rick Mayer

Put the wine lines in, wonderful space. ..way to go Kim...yum!!!

digitalprotocol topcommenter

at least the burger isnt more than $10

Two Organic Eggs 

hasbrowns, bacon, toast...8.25  is egregious

Rachael Joseph
Rachael Joseph

Scott Joseph / Dave Palmieri beer and a kids play area! When are we going?!

Mary King
Mary King

Aren't we lucky ducks! Yea!!!!!! Tiny Diner!

Gwen Gomez
Gwen Gomez

Dammit Tony Palermo!! I was gonna say that!! Anyway, im going on sun :)

CinBlueland topcommenter

Decent concept, But I'll be surprised if they last more than two years in that neighborhood.

swmnguy topcommenter

Really?  Across the street is Bancroft, but I'm pretty sure the northwest corner of 38th and 11th Ave. is still considered Powderhorn neighborhood.  Not that it matters or I really care.  And I agree with you wholeheartedly; glad they're finally open.


We always put address and contact information for First Looks at the bottom of each post, but I will re-post for you here. Tiny Diner 1024 E. 38th St., Minneapolis; 612-767-3322, that would make the CROSS STREETS 38th St. E & 10th Ave. S. 

swmnguy topcommenter

@CinBlueland  I used to live up 11th Ave. on this same block.  It's a good neighborhood to live in.  People think of Cup Foods on 38th and Chicago and think the neighborhood is bad, but really, that might as well be across town.

The neighborhood might not support a restaurant, though.  I'd call it a lower-middle class working neighborhood.  High rate of owner-occupied houses, but smaller homes, not a lot of loose spending money.  When my wife and I bought our first house in 1996, that block was hands-down the best block we found where our $50,000 would buy us a house.

The building the Tiny Diner is in is one of those "cursed buildings" where nothing seems to work out.  Long ago it was a Holiday gas station.  That closed and sat empty, probably due to clean-up costs.  Then a few restaurants opened and closed pretty quickly.  One place did a nice breakfast, but they were clearly undercapitalized and couldn't survive.  They couldn't afford advertising or decent signage, and if you weren't watching for it you'd drive right by on 38th St. without noticing.

Two years?  With any restaurant, 50/50 over two years is optimistic.  Bartmann's involvement would improve the odds, especially if her reputation can bring people in from other parts of town.  That neighborhood hasn't yet become hipsterized, so that would bring the odds back down.  You might be right.  I hope we're wrong.

In the long term I think that stretch of 38th is going to revitalize, but that might take a decade or more.  I've been expecting my mother-in-law's neighborhood near 32nd and Pillsbury to catch an updraft from Uptown's spread for 25 years and that hasn't quite reached that far yet.

swmnguy topcommenter

@emily.weiss  Actually it's on the 11th Ave. S. side of that block.  I used to live up 11th on that same block.

Drewey topcommenter

It's clear that you dipshits don't have the first clue about the neighborhoods in south Minneapolis. This restaurant is exactly in line with the values of this area.

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